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The 20 most recent journal entries:

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    Friday, 23rd October, 2020
    10:51 pm
    Voting for lunatics and crooks
    Today I helped Mum and Dad make their postal vote in the QLD election. I was horrified that of the 6 candidates, 3 are anti-science morons and one is a right-wing liar who is probably also anti-science. And the way Labor have been acting lately I'm a little suspicious of the Labor candidate. This is what we get when absolutely no qualifications are needed to become a politician.

    We really need entrance exams for any person entering politics. They should have a broad and deep understanding of the sciences, and excellent comprehension of technology and history. Also, people in positions of power and influence should have worse repercussions for lying and misleading the Australian people, and criminal behavior because of the immense damage they can wreak. Clive Palmer should be in prison for at least the next 20 years, most of the LNP should be stripped of their positions and government pensions and their ill-gotten fortunes, and many in Labor should too. The One Nation idiots and all the other anti-science parties and independents should be unceremoniously dumped from politics. Only those who recognise reality should be allowed to have any power at all. Delusional nutjobs should not even get to square one.

    One thing I found deeply disturbing about the voting was that we have to vote for people we definitely DON'T want anywhere near power. We have to number every one of the 6 boxes. That means if my first 2 choices fail to get enough votes to be elected, I'm forced to vote for scumbags or idiots! [sigh] At least it's better than USA's nightmarish first-past-the-post system. (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/335939.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    7:02 am
    Tinkering with Puppy on a UEFI laptop
    Well, last night was definitely NOT fun, though it certainly was interesting. I spent almost 6 hours trying to resurrect my computer. The kind of Linux I use is Puppy Linux, which has a number of aspects that I like over other kinds of Linux. One being that it can be run from external media (CD, USB, etc.), or can be installed on the internal hard drive in the more common way. When booting from CD the user can choose to save their settings and work in a savefile or a special directory (called a frugal install).

    When I bought this very cheap laptop I disabled the UEFI booting system and deleted MSWindows from the machine, then booted it from CD, intending to do a full install at some time in the future. I had come to feel there must be a way to do a frugal install that boots entirely from the hard drive. Last night I decided to bite the bullet and work out a way to do it.

    After a lot of reading on the topic I gave it a shot... and lost my system. I could still boot from the CD, and I could see all my files were there, I just couldn't persuade my computer to boot up with all my settings and software. [sigh]

    As I say, it took me many hours, but I finally have my system back, however I'm still booting from CD. I'll do more reading soon, probably tonight, and try again. I'll likely keep trying until I succeed. It is a bit scary though. :) (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/335762.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Wednesday, 14th October, 2020
    4:39 am
    Curved space
    It's 3:30am and my mind keeps ticking over the same annoying thing. I keep trying to think of some way to see gravity as curved space without it collapsing into contradictions. I can see the attraction of the idea. It almost looks like you can eliminate gravity as a force and just see it as geometry. Also, I'm very aware of the fact that a lot of very smart people who I respect think that this is how gravity works. Unfortunately I know that a lot of very smart people believed in planetary epicycles too.

    My only solution to the problem is to genuinely understand it. However, no matter how I try a couple of basic problems always remain.

    If space is curved, then an object without force acting on it will orbit another because its path is said to be a straight line that has been bent by the nearby mass. However if I momentarily push that object along its existing path so that it moves faster, then it will no longer continue the same path. It is obvious why it moves to a different path, but it is not explainable if the object was already following what was a straight path in curved space. It requires the person to believe two contradictory things at once: that space is both curved and flat at the same time. When an object travels passively through space, the curved path is a straight line bent by curved space, but add speed to that object and we now recalculate its path using flat space, but somehow still, at the same time, think space is curved.

    When thinking of gravity as curved space people tend to use Einstein's weights on a rubber membrane metaphor. It is a very attractive model. It uses gravity pulling objects down on the membrane distorting it, to model how space is distorted, but in doing this gravity is being used to explain gravity. You can't do that. It is like the circular arguments of religion: god exists because of a book that says he does, and the book is true because it's god's book. It doesn't make sense.

    If you hold a ball above the ground then release it, it suddenly moves. This seems to introduce a force acting on the ball. When considering space as distorted, you think of the membrane representing space as angled, so the ball rolls down the incline to the larger mass, Earth. But you haven't eliminated gravity and explained it as geometry. You've replaced the simple force of gravity with geometry distorted in some unexplained way, plus some hitherto unexplained force in order to explain how things are pushed against that geometry. It doesn't simplify gravity; it complicates it.

    If anybody understands how I am wrong in all this, please, I beg of you, tell me how. I would be very happy and relieved to be shown how I am wrong. (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/335464.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Friday, 25th September, 2020
    9:56 pm
    Galatea - amazing interactive fiction
    My favorite work of Interactive Fiction (IF) is "Galatea" by the incredibly talented author Emily Short.

    So, what is IF? You have probably heard of Choose Your Own Adventure stories, where you are able to make choices at various points in a story and it branches depending on what you decide. They are often called "text adventures".

    IF lets you type in what you want to do and the program updates your situation. Most use pure text; some use pictures and text; some use animated images. (I always wanted to write stories that play out interactively inside virtual worlds -- I call it VRFiction. There have been some brilliant such works, such as "The Last of Us" and "The Last of Us Part 2"). But in spite of all the potential for graphics, plain old text IF is still often the most complex.

    Galatea has around 30 verbs, but more than 150 nouns. You can type in "help" (without the quote marks) to get hints, such as some words the program will respond to.

    Most IF has some kind of quest, or story, or puzzle that you are supposed to solve, but Galatea is unusual in that it is a character study which can go hundreds of different ways, depending on what you do or say.

    Expect to be frustrated at first, but it can become quite addictive to play over and over again, making different choices and getting different outcomes.

    You can download Galatea as a file to be run on your computer, or you can play it online:

    If you want the downloadable file so you can play it offline, you can get it at:
    You will need a reader program. I recommend Gargoyle, which can read many Interactive Fiction formats. (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/335198.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Saturday, 19th September, 2020
    8:09 am
    Getting close to the end of my current novel
    I've been writing my latest novel, Breathe, for too many years. I got the idea for it back in 2015, while I was writing my short novel, Shirlocke, but it really took me a year or more to get started. The story seemed fairly straightforward, but it turned out to require a lot more research than I expected... so, combined with my usual distracted and procrastinating nature, here we are 4 years later and I'm finally approaching the end. It will be my biggest novel yet. It's set here in Australia, and tells an uplifting story of a lesbian couple who survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

    Here is the cover I created:

    I know it's odd to be talking about this before I've actually finished, but I'm prompted by the exciting feeling that it is finally, after all this time, approaching completion. One of the first things I knew, when I originally came up with the story idea, was how I wanted it to end, but it bothered me that my ending might be too unsatisfying. Well, yesterday I realised how to tie the whole thing up in a satisfying way, while leaving it open and still being able to use my original ending. Nice!

    I really hope after all this time this book is not a huge pile of steaming crap. It worries me when I think of all those books and movies where people have spent an enormous amount of time, devoting tremendous effort, resources, and money to creating something they think is great, but which can be genuinely awful. Somehow creators are often blind to the faults of their creations. I honestly don't know whether my works are good or terrible. (Given the lack of feedback, I fear it may be the latter.) However, given that the task I've set myself is to become a better writer by writing at least 12 novels, this one will put me just over the halfway mark. It is another big step on the journey.

    That journey needs to speed up, because I fear that I'm likely to inherit my Mum's susceptibility to Alzheimer's. She has it and both her sisters died of it. I'm next in line. If I'm to complete my task I'd better get a hurry on... especially since I also want to start narrating my stories and illustrate some, and create an artificial intelligence similar to that in my short story Grave Words.

    Too much to do; too little time.

    I'd better get back to writing. (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/335016.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Friday, 5th June, 2020
    1:32 am
    playing hevc videos on old mplayer that doesn't support that format
    Woo hoo!!!! I just enjoyed a lovely bit of Linux magic. My favorite Linux is a bit old, but I have it working just how I like, with a lot of programs installed and a lot of things I've set up exactly how it suits me.

    Unfortunately time moves on, and I was given some h265 (hevc) encoded videos recently. My favorite video player, mplayer, doesn't have a codec to play them though (at least, not this older version), so I've been converting them using ffmpeg into h264 format, which I can play. It takes about an hour to convert a video, and I end up having to store the video twice, once for each format.

    Tonight an idea hit me. If I can get ffmpeg to decode the hevc video and pipe it out the standard output (stdout) to mplayer through its standard input (stdin) then maybe I can play videos directly. After experimenting for a while I found a way that actually works!!!!

    ffmpeg -i "video.mkv" -f mpeg - | mplayer -cache 10240 -

    -i tells ffmpeg to use the video file "video.mkv"
    -f tells it to output mpeg format
    - by itself tells it to output on stdout
    | is the pipe character
    -cache tells mplayer to use a cache (in this case a large one) to prevent seek problems
    - by itself tells mplayer to take its input from stdin

    Now I just need to work out how to get it to display subtitles as well. I'm so deaf these days I have to watch everything with subtitles.

    Ah... I think I've just worked out how to show subtitles. Mplayer has an option that lets it take its subtitles from a separately named file. I'll give that a shot.

    Yes! It works! Extracting the subtitles from the original file takes just a few seconds:

    ffmpeg -i video.mkv subtitle.srt

    Then I add the -sub subtitle.srt option and I'm good.

    ffmpeg -i "video.mkv" -f mpeg - | mplayer -cache 10240 -sub subtitle.srt -

    Ta-da!!!!! :D (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/334594.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Thursday, 26th March, 2020
    4:28 am
    What we should do, but are too stupid to take the hint
    We've recently been slapped in the face by reality a couple of times, but seem unable to collectively realise the obvious message.

    The bushfires have been getting worse every few years until last year when they were utterly catastrophic. We desperately need to fix global warming. If we don't, then this will just continue to get worse. But the instant the immediate emergency is over, people just go back to ignoring the problem.

    We will drag our feet in the change from fossil fuels; we will fight against efficiency; we will let corrupt politicians subsidise ruinous energy choices and steal land and poison water supplies to do so.

    In a couple of years it will be much worse, and the fires even more horrific and people will demand to know why nothing was done to avert it... then afterwards everybody will relax and continue as before... again.

    This new coronavirus was a massive wakeup call. It could have been so much worse. Just two or three times the lethality, let alone ten or thirty times the lethality could have easily spelled the end of our civilisation. But by pure dumb good luck, it is only about 3% lethal.

    We have the technology to let us sail through this with almost no problem at all:

    • The internet lets us buy and sell stuff, work remotely, communicate with others, educate, and entertain ourselves (often completely free) while staying isolated.

    • Virtual reality (VR) can be used to fulfill people's need for human interaction. Games have forced the advancement of VR to the point where it has become a good substitute for real, face-to-face interaction... and it continues to improve rapidly.

    • We have begun the automation of the means of production so that most industries could potentially run without humans needing to put themselves in danger. When humans do need to be involved, the use of VR technology for telepresence allows people to remain safe.

    • We have the beginnings of artificial intelligence (AI) that could enhance automation so that very few industries will need humans to go to work and put themselves and others in danger. AI can help with delivering goods, diagnosing illness, legal work, scientific research, and data collation, taking the burden off humans and removing the risk of spreading infection.

    • We have experimented with Universal Basic Income (UBI) -- usually with superb outcomes -- so we know we have the capability to ensure entire populations can stay isolated during a pandemic without starving to death or losing their homes.

    But for some reason I don't understand, our "leaders" are completely paralysed... except in China and some parts of Europe... and even they continue to ignore most of the solutions.

    We know what we should be doing... but we won't do it.

    After this pandemic passes we will gather up the pieces of our broken economies and damaged lives, mourn our losses, then go back to doing things exactly the same way again! It is almost certain the next pandemic will be far, far worse -- and, yes, there WILL be another. Of course there will. History teaches us that certainty. We've been given the chance to learn from this one, but we won't.

    We will fight against automation, AI, and UBI. We will barely use the internet and VR, except for a small number of gamers who will be disparaged by the press as being weirdos. And when the next pandemic hits we will all be sooo surprised again... but we will do nothing to fix it... again.

    For an absolutely brilliant species we are goddamn borderline insane.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/334375.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Sunday, 13th October, 2019
    6:07 am
    The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality
    It seems to me, realising that a blind, unfeeling universe gets to be conscious through us, and thus able understand itself via our minds (for we are the tiny, infinitely precious, conscious bits of this vast universe), provides far greater comfort than some mythical stone-age god which threatens you with an eternal lake of fire and torture if you disobey some bizarre, often inappropriate, primitive laws.

    Some religious friends have told me that their god gives them purpose and that without it they would be lost. I try to explain to them that they haven't thought it through completely. They don't know the mind of their god so can't know what purpose it might have (it moves in mysterious ways), so the only meaning they have is in giving up looking for one, and accepting instead broken and outdated fabrications from our primitive, superstitious past.

    On the other hand, it's easy to derive genuine meaning and moral goals from the real world around us.

    There are two basic forms of material in the universe: alive and non-living. Living things have a main simple purpose: to continue life.

    Some living things have developed brains to help them live, and that brings another purpose on top of, and in aid of life itself: to learn.

    Some intelligent creatures form social groups in order to better survive and that gives yet another purpose: to care for our fellows.

    Humans are special. We have developed phenomenally oversized brains which grant us expanded purposes. We can learn about far more than just the things our survival depends upon, and in that learning we can see that all life is interwoven and that we depend upon all those around us, so we need to look after all life, not just our own. We can see beyond ourselves, and our family, and our tribe or clan, beyond our village or city, past state and national borders, even past species boundaries to realise we are all brothers and sisters -- not just all humans, but all the other mammals, even all other vertebrates, all other animals, and even all life.

    The power, beauty, majesty and duty of reality far exceeds the pettiness of any parochial stone age myth.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/334308.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Friday, 23rd August, 2019
    4:03 pm
    a little story analogy for free speech
    You're having a pleasant afternoon stroll in your neighborhood. With its tall trees, much shrubbery, plentiful birds, and lack of fences, it looks like virgin bushland, but it's actually fairly well populated suburbia, with low-built homes nestling among the trees, mostly hidden. You and most of the people who are privileged to live here are very proud that this area supports an extraordinary diversity of rare and endangered animals and plants, and is one of the few remaining strongholds of koalas in the state. Usually it is lush and green and damp because of the way the trees tend to keep everything under them moist, but we've been going through an unexpectedly long drought lately, so everything is unusually dry.

    You round a corner in the path and are surprised and horrified to see a fellow standing, lighting matches and dropping them into the grasses near him. He seems fascinated with the fire and giggles each time it catches. In alarm you run forward, snatch the box of matches from him and successfully stomp out the flames.

    This makes him angry, "Hey! Those are my matches! You can't take away my property. I have a right to them and to use them as I see fit."

    Is he correct? Does he have the right to put everybody's lives at risk by setting alight to where you live? Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and without it we humans probably would have died out long ago, but do we have a responsibility in its use? Does he have an unrestricted right to the matches he clearly owns?

    Free speech is very important, and is an extremely powerful tool, especially in the hands of public figures, such as politicians and people in the media. Should they be allowed to ignite division and hatred among people and risk burning our diverse and peaceful society down? Or should it be a requirement of their position to be the best of us, wielding their tool of free speech responsibly?

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333858.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    3:45 pm
    a little story analogy regarding climate change denial
    You're on your way to a business meeting that could make you a lot of money. Ahead is a bus and a small car parked on the side of the road before a bridge and a lot of men milling around. Several of the men frantically wave you down as you approach the bridge. Reluctantly, because you don't want to be late, you stop and ask the men what's up. They tell you the bridge ahead is dangerous and you shouldn't cross it.

    You peer at the bridge and say it looks alright to you.

    Another man saunters over and says to ignore them; the bridge is fine.

    One of the men who warned you growls that the bridge is definitely unsafe and anyone driving across will cause its collapse and they'll fall to their death. He says you should believe them because they are bridge engineers on the way to an engineering convention. There are 97 of them in the bus, and they unanimously agree that the bridge is unsafe. He points to the guy who said it's okay and says that fellow and two others came in the small car parked behind the bus. Those three say it's safe, but they're not even engineers. One is an economist, one is a geologist, and the third doesn't seem to have any qualifications at all.

    Do you risk the bridge anyway, or do you thank the engineers, and take a less direct, but safe route to your destination?

    97% of scientists warn us we're causing catastrophic climate change. 3% deny this. The deniers are mostly economists, geologists, and others who are not climate scientists.

    Do you choose a safe path, or risk collapse and death?

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333695.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Saturday, 24th November, 2018
    6:46 am
    Blackmail threat
    I just got a threat from some piece of shit out there on the net.

    He posted from IP at an address in Athens marked by the red pin in the map. The idiot thinks faking my name in the "Send" field of the email makes him anonymous. (I should note that the map address might just be the server for his internet provider, not his personal address.)

    He assumes that I'm into porn. That's a stupid mistake which comes off as an empty threat because I actually never bother with porn. The closest I get to it is occasionally reading some lesbian romances.

    He thinks I have a camera on my computer that lets him take pictures of me having sex. Nope. I don't have a camera on my computer and I live alone, happily, without a sexual partner for decades.

    He says he's spent a lot of time spying on me. Well then he must have a very boring life because I spend most of my time writing about social justice issues.

    He thinks he can intimidate me by telling me my ancient mySpace password. He assumes I use the same password for everything (like many people do). But I use a different password on everything that requires one. And it certainly isn't the password into my computer.

    Here is what this jerk-off wrote:


    I have very bad news for you.
    03/08/2018 - on this day I hacked your OS and got full access to your account mim@miriam-english.org
    On this day your account mim@miriam-english.org has password: snuffled0g

    So, you can change the password, yes.. But my malware intercepts it every time.

    How I made it:
    In the software of the router, through which you went online, was a vulnerability.
    I just hacked this router and placed my malicious code on it.
    When you went online, my trojan was installed on the OS of your device.

    After that, I made a full dump of your disk (I have all your address book, history of viewing sites, all files, phone numbers and addresses of all your contacts).

    A month ago, I wanted to lock your device and ask for a not big amount of btc to unlock.
    But I looked at the sites that you regularly visit, and I was shocked by what I saw!!!
    I'm talk you about sites for adults.

    I want to say - you are a BIG pervert. Your fantasy is shifted far away from the normal course!

    And I got an idea....
    I made a screenshot of the adult sites where you have fun (do you understand what it is about, huh?).
    After that, I made a screenshot of your joys (using the camera of your device) and glued them together.
    Turned out amazing! You are so spectacular!

    I'm know that you would not like to show these screenshots to your friends, relatives or colleagues.
    I think $896 is a very, very small amount for my silence.
    Besides, I have been spying on you for so long, having spent a lot of time!

    Pay ONLY in Bitcoins!
    My BTC wallet: 18YDAf11psBJSavARQCwysE7E89zSEMfGG

    You do not know how to use bitcoins?
    Enter a query in any search engine: "how to replenish btc wallet".
    It's extremely easy

    For this payment I give you a little over two days (exactly 55 hours).
    As soon as this letter is opened, the timer will work.

    After payment, my virus and dirty screenshots with your enjoys will be self-destruct automatically.
    If I do not receive from you the specified amount, then your device will be locked, and all your contacts will receive a screenshots with your "enjoys".

    I hope you understand your situation.
    - Do not try to find and destroy my virus! (All your data, files and screenshots is already uploaded to a remote server)
    - Do not try to contact me (you yourself will see that this is impossible, I sent this email from your account)
    - Various security services will not help you; formatting a disk or destroying a device will not help, since your data is already on a remote server.

    P.S. You are not my single victim. so, I guarantee you that I will not disturb you again after payment!
    This is the word of honor hacker

    I also ask you to regularly update your antiviruses in the future. This way you will no longer fall into a similar situation.

    Do not hold evil! I just do my job.
    Good luck.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333490.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Saturday, 5th May, 2018
    10:40 am
    theory of mind and helping people
    Theory of mind is an interesting concept. It lets us understand what another person sees. We generally develop this ability at about age 4 years.

    Here is a common way it is explained: A father phones home and his three-year-old daughter answers. He asks her what she's been doing. She answers, "I've been playing with this." She doesn't understand that he doesn't know what she's looking at.

    Last year an artificial intelligence was able to demonstrate theory of mind. This is a big deal. It is the beginning of empathy. There's still a long way to go yet, of course, but it's still pretty damn amazing.

    I've begun to wonder if theory of mind is not the solid thing it is generally assumed to be.

    I often help friends and family with their computer problems over the phone. It is extremely rare for a person to describe what they are seeing. Usually they seem to assume that I can see what they do. And it isn't just because they assume I'm an "expert" with computers. Often they'll do this with computer interfaces that I've told them I have little or no experience with. I'll jokingly tell them I haven't developed telepathy yet, so don't know what they're looking at, so they need to describe for me what they're seeing. But for some reason I've never understood, this is almost impossible for most people to do. Instead, I have to describe what I think they might be seeing and ask them if that fits or not, going through multiple descriptions until, either one fits what they're seeing or they become too frustrated and call an end to it.

    Why is this? I'm not exceptional. Why can I describe things, but most other people can't? On rare occasions I have met people who carefully detail what they see and it's like turning on the light in the room. I can see what they see and quickly help them to the solution, if I know it. This makes it even more obvious there is something very strange going on here.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333266.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Tuesday, 13th March, 2018
    9:29 am
    Disappeared page
    An opinion piece was published at Forbes a couple of days ago, but has mysteriously disappeared. Even stranger, when checking the Internet Archive I found the article there, but when I began to read it, it disappeared too, to be replaced by a blank page. I tried viewing it a number of times on the Internet Archive, and each time it showed for a few seconds before disappearing, so I grabbed it before it disappeared and I am posting it here. I understand white Christian conservatives will consider it contentious, but everybody else on Earth will think it is unsurprising.
    It's now been reposted to:

    Here's the absurd explanation Chris Ladd received from Forbes regarding the post they removed:

    We took down your evangelical piece. It was way out of bounds — painting the entire evangelical movement with a broad brush.

    We also have a policy of not talking about social issues like abortion at Forbes Opinion — only economic policy and politics. We try to keep things data driven.

    Also, given your criticisms of Robert Jeffress, you should have reached out to him for comment. As I noted in a recent email, it is extremely important to reach out for comment from anyone you personally criticize in your work.

    Let me know if you have any questions about these points.

    Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel

    Chris Ladd, Contributor</p> Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

    WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Diana Martinez, 18, an undocumented student was arrested with a dozen other undocumented students refusing to leave their sit-in in the Hart Senate Office building. Photographed on July 20 in Washington, DC. (Mark Abramson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

    Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

    Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

    There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

    Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

    Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

    What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

    Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.

    Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

    White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

    Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

    Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

    Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

    For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

    Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

    What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

    Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

    Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

    While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

    You will know a tree by its fruit.


    Chris Ladd, former GOP Precinct Committeeman, author of The Politics of Crazy and creator of PoliticalOrphans.

    Tuesday, 19th December, 2017
    8:30 am
    (A lovely friend, Dorejejaguar, prompted me to write this last night.)
    I've often wondered why I'm happier than most people. After reading a fair bit on the topic I've come to the conclusion that I was just lucky that my upbringing accidentally gave me some very useful tools. My old girlfriend, Margaret, missed out on them and she makes herself miserable.

    Here are the tools I've been able to figure out so far:

    I am deliberately grateful for things. There are lots of things we can be grateful for -- I have my eyesight (despite losing some in one eye), I can hear beautiful music (despite gradually going deaf), I have the use of my hands and my legs, I have thousands of books (both on paper and as ebooks), I have a lovely little companion doggie, I can pick up the phone and ring my wonderful parents who are less than an hour's drive away, I live way out in the country where birds and frogs serenade me, I have oodles of amazingly interesting videos to watch and talks to listen to (most downloaded from the net)... and so on. Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude boost enjoyment of life.

    Helping people
    I help people when I can. We are social creatures so our brains are wired to generate pleasure when we help others. But this has to be genuine help otherwise it backfires. For example getting frustrated with someone because they don't use your help the way you'd expected, or they don't appear to appreciate it, makes you upset instead of happy because you are actully doing it for yourself instead of for them. It can be difficult, but it's a nice buzz when you get it right.

    Find ways to view anything in a positive light. I like to boast that I can see the silver lining in the darkest cloud. It's not entirely true, but it mostly is. I can turn around almost anything to see the positive in it. It has become habit. (Margaret does the opposite and she often rings me depressed about something trivial that she's worked up into something worse than it should be. That's her habit, and she doesn't realise how it hurts her.)

    Some examples make this clearer. Recently I hurt my back (I probably tore a muscle by picking something up the wrong way.) It was astonishingly painful. I could barely walk and couldn't sit at the computer for very long. I turned it into a positive by using it as an excuse to get a lot of reading done, lying in bed.

    Here's another example: about a decade ago I was on chemotherapy, lost much of my hair, and was constantly exhausted. I had to pause walking up just a few steps to catch my breath. I turned it into a positive by studying the changes and understanding them. It was fascinating to see how the treatment made me anaemic, and I really enjoyed observing the effects in myself. It gave me greater understanding of, and empathy for, people who are similarly afflicted. It was an opportunity to learn because it doesn't matter how many times we read about something, or are told, we don't truly understand it until we experience it.

    Another example: Some time back, I was listening to an interview with a writer who said that when she was little and she hurt herself or some other bad thing happened to her, her mother (who was also a writer) would say to her, "Don't worry dear, it's all grist to the mill." In other words it becomes part of her life experiences. It used to annoy the absolute crap out of her when she was a kid, but now that she's grown up and is a writer too she realises her Mum was exactly right. All those experiences -- good and bad -- give her a wealth that she can draw upon. I feel the same way. One time I was having a scary-looking mole cut out and when the doctor started cutting he said that if I can feel that to let him know and he'll inject more local anaesthetic. I said that it was okay because the pain was interesting. He looked at me funny, but I meant it. It wasn't overpoweringly awful, and it was an experience you don't get very often.

    A last example: when I was visiting Margaret in New Zealand a few years ago I was helping her by mowing her lawn. When I took the mower from the back lawn around to the front lawn I switched off the mower and was clowning around running down the driveway acting as if it was a racecar. I swerved suddenly near the front gate, but didn't notice the concrete there was mossy. My feet went out from under me and I went down hard, tearing a hole in my pants, badly grazing my knee and one hand. But I focussed on how ridiculous it must have looked and collapsed in laughter punctuated with "Ow, ow!"

    I'm not saying that I'm special. I'm just lucky that this has become a habit so I don't even have to try to do it anymore.

    Getting something done gives a nice jolt of pleasure, whether it is cleaning the kitchen, or writing a small computer program, or learning a song, or drawing a picture. Weirdly, sometimes I get the greatest pleasure from simple things that take very little effort, but fulfill a need or desire.

    Always make sure you get enough. If you don't have sufficient sleep, don't worry about it, catch up later with a nap.

    Don't seek it
    One very important thing about happiness. I've noticed that seeking it seems to push it away. It's like that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when you're trying to remember a particular word; the harder you try to remember it, the further it recedes from your grasp. The best way to catch the word is to stop trying to catch it and it will pop into your mind later unbidden. Happiness is like that. I've met people who try and try to be happy and it makes them miserable. But you use tricks to elicit happiness while doing something else.

    Some things that work for many people, but I don't need:

    Bright light
    Sunshine can boost the brain's production of melanin, which can make some people happier. You don't need a lot of sunlight to get this effect. It's why some people feel more unhappy during winter.

    Happiness diary
    A happiness diary can force people to notice the good things in their life. Just note down the good things that have happened to you each day, but not the bad things. It helps the good to loom larger in your view. The bad things will always be there and don't need help, but if your view is mostly uplifting then it sets your frame of mind.

    Friends and family
    Having contact with friends and family seems to boost happiness for most people. (I enjoy my friends and family, but I don't need that to make me happy -- I love being a hermit. I don't get lonely.)

    Physical activity can boost pleasure. Sweeping the floor, going for a walk, dancing, calisthenic exercises. I am not a fan of heavy exercise. I prefer it gentle.

    There are a few resources I highly recommend. One is an excellent documentary titled simply "Happy". I haven't been able to find it online but if you ask me I might be able to find a way to get it to you.

    Another great resource is Dan Gilbert, a scientist who studies happiness. He's written a very interesting book called "Stumbling on Happiness" which is about how we can find (and lose) happiness in unpredictable ways and what we can learn from that. He's given some TED talks on the topic:

    Movies or books that are uplifting, especially comedies, can do wonders. One of my favorite YouTube videos is a Russian one of ordinary people helping each other. It never fails to choke me up and make me feel very happy:

    Laughter truly is a marvelous medicine. Even hearing a laugh can cause happiness, especially if it is a baby's laugh:

    I love listening to Radiolab episodes. They are almost always uplifting human-interest talks with a good dash of humor. My favorites are the older ones. They have more than 200 of them online and new ones come out every couple of weeks.

    Finally, stay away from the mainstream media. Its entire business model is centered on making people fearful and angry. It is very successful at holding audience attention, but it makes people unhappy.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/332658.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Thursday, 7th December, 2017
    1:03 am
    odd-even weeks or calculating fortnights
    This calculates even weeks, that is, it can calculate fortnights:
    expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "even"

    or if you want odd weeks:
    expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 + 1 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "odd"

    There are 604800 seconds in a week.
    "% 2" gives the remainder after division by 2.
    When expr evaluates to zero the command after the OR (||) is run.

    My rubbish collection is on alternate weeks. But cron doesn't know about fortnights and I only put my rubbish out once every two or three months (I don't have much waste). So I use this in cron to trigger an alert on the appropriate day:

    0 10 * * mon expr \( `date +\%s` / 604800 + 1 \) \% 2 > /dev/null || alert "garbage day"

    I can't remember why I escaped the "%" symbols. I think maybe cron chokes on them if you don't.

    Oh, I should add that "alert" is not a standard command. It is a script that I wrote which puts a notice on the screen and uses speech synthesis to announce the message.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/332340.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Saturday, 2nd December, 2017
    8:26 am
    matching a pattern in thesaurus output
    There must be a simpler way to do this. I was looking for words similar in meaning to "back" or "previous" or "before" but beginning with the letter "d".

    My awk is a bit rusty so I used sed, which I seem to use almost every day, wonderful, ugly command it is. Here is what I came up with:

    dict -d moby-thesaurus back | sed -z 's/,/\n/g' | sed 's/^[[:space:]]*//' | sed -n '/^[dD]/p'

    dict looks up "back" in "moby-thesaurus"
    pipe to...
    sed gulps it all down as a single line using the -z option and, for all commas, substitutes a newline
    pipe to...
    sed removes all whitespace characters from start of each line
    pipe to...
    sed prints only lines that start with "d" or "D"

    The choice of pattern is important, for example '\<d' also finds multiple word results where one of the words starts with "d" (e.g. "lay down").

    But there must be a simpler way. Jeez!
    I can hardly wait for general purpose AI.

    (Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/332278.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Saturday, 9th September, 2017
    6:30 am
    am, pm
    Is anybody else confused by the abbreviations "am" and "pm" when applied to 12 o'clock midday and 12 o'clock midnight? It seems to me not only arbitrary and confusing, but actually wrong.

    The abbreviation "pm" is for post (after) meridiem (midday), so when speaking of twelve noon or midday is actually incorrect to call it 12pm, because it isn't after noon yet; it is noon. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 noon, or 12 midday, or just noon or midday.

    A similar problem occurs at midnight. It is easy to see why 11pm is still referred to as after noon (post meridiem) because it is better described as after the previous noon rather than before the next noon because it is closer to one than the other, even though it is in reality both. Likewise it makes sense that 1am is referred to as before noon because it is closer to the next noon. But midnight is closer to neither the previous nor the next. It is equally am and pm. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 midnight, or just midnight.

    Apparently, in an attempt to avoid confusing people, travel times around the world commonly use 12:01pm or 12:01am or 11:59am or 11:59pm instead of messing with the ambiguous 12:00 times.

    As for the term "noon". That's a weird one. In the past it meant the ninth hour (nona hora) beginning around dawn, or our 6am, so that the ninth hour would have been our 3pm. So how did that eventually become midday? I don't know. Ancient Roman timekeeping is seriously muddled, and I haven't bothered to untangle it yet. One thing I do like about it though, is that the length of an hour changed according to the season and the location, so that at Rome an hour in summer would be about 75 minutes and in winter about 45 minutes. That makes wonderful good sense to me. Screw this stupid daylight saving time and the constantly shifting rising and setting times of the sun. On the other hand, one of my biggest complaints against daylight saving time is that it makes international meetings via the internet incredibly difficult, and constantly shifting hour lengths would seriously mess with that too.

    I expect that sometime in the future we might end up with something like Star Trek's stardate which would resolve all synchrony problems, while completely removing all local relevance. We've already had an attempt at that with UTC, which is basically Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) without silly daylight saving. Incidentally, although UTC is often referred to as Universal Time Code, apparently it stands for the French: temps universel coordonné, which doesn't really make sense as it would be then TUC. It seems actually to stand for Universal Time Coordinated, which is an awful name, clearly chosen by a committee. Being locked to Greenwich in England gets up some people's noses. Admittedly much of the early work recorded in books was conducted at the observatory in Greenwich. But there were a lot of much earlier, very accurate astronomical calculations in India, so Greenwich wasn't the first. Perhaps the invention of the first reliable, portable, mechanical clock by Englishman John Harrison decided things. I don't know.

    Once thing is certain: time is a mess. I won't even get started on other aspects of it, such as the 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week (making calculations of every second day messy), 28 or 29 or 30 or 31 days in a month (WTF!!!), 52 weeks in a year, and 364 or 365 days in a year. Naming the months mixes everything up still further, with September (sept=7) being the 9th month, October (oct=8) being the 10th month, November (novem=9) being the 11th month and December (dec=10) being the 12th month. (FFS!!) And then to top all this off, adding the recent and completely unnecessary insanity of daylight saving into that wreckage just completely screws everything even further.

    (Crossposted from http://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/331883.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Thursday, 27th July, 2017
    8:14 am
    I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's latest book Walkaway. I really enjoyed it. I think it's his best yet. The ideas in it come thick and fast, as they do in all his books, but this one has the most hope and the most desperation. It also has the most believable characters.

    I love Cory Doctorow's vision of the future, where the idea of people helping each other becomes the most important thing, not gaining wealth and possessions. In all his books there is a message about that, but this was by far the most overt and clearly thought-out one. He carefully presented a path to that future. I hope we take it, and I hope we embrace it more completely than the world does in his story. We could do without the clashes and strife accompanying the birth of that better world.

    Given recent events though, I think he may have accurately gauged the strength of the forces against it. Recently I volunteered to build a website for the Sunshine Coast Community Halls.
    It was a pretty cool experience. There are a lot of amazing people doing wonderful things. However when I listed the Coolum Community Centre I also mentioned the fact that the hall had been moved once by the Council -- a sore point with a lot of people as it was moved to make way for a MacDonalds (which I didn't mention) -- and that now Council is going to move it again, far away from its present location, which has hundreds of locals annoyed. Bear in mind that this was just two short sentences in a long page of description about the hall, its history, and the people and their activities at the hall, just as I have done for every other of the twenty-odd halls.

    Well, the Council was angry and I think threatened about it, so I was asked to remove the offending two sentences, which I did after querying whether they really wanted to draw attention to it like that. Then I had to remove the entire page about Coolum. Coolum was cut out of the festival. It made the Council look very petty and mean.

    Because I was reading Walkaway at the time, I was struck by the similarity between how standard power-structures act in that story and how they were acting in reality. When challenged, no matter how meekly, they are met by ridiculously disproportionate force, so that small disturbances are utterly demolished. And then the authoritarians are genuinely puzzled when nobody trusts or likes them.

    When I was a child growing up in the bush I liked to go walking kilometers to some of my favorite places. I remember on one occasion trying an experiment with black bullants and red bullants. I approached the black bullant nest and waved my arms. Some bullants would aggressively move toward me, rightly seeing me as a threat. The black bullants were quite mild and would only chase me for about a meter before realising I wasn't a threat and turning around to go back to their nest. However the red bullants were much more aggressive. They would chase me for about 3 meters from their nest before figuring I wasn't a threat. I've often wondered since, whether we white-skinned humans are like those red bullants: far too easily provoked to insane overreaction. Perhaps it's why we've so successfully populated the Earth. If so, that strategy is now endangering us.

    Oh, and I've begun re-reading John Wyndham's Trouble With Lichen for the umpteenth time. Wonderful story. I'm thoroughly enjoying it again. Compared to Cory Doctorow's story it is so polite and understated. Interesting that both books are about equally world-shaking ideas, but told in such different ways.

    I haven't been doing much writing myself. :(
    Two books to finish and no writing getting done. [sigh]
    Blocked on one, still writing out ideas and bits and pieces for the other.
    I've been thinking about doing some programming on some ideas I have for artificial intelligence (AI). That might help one of my stories (it is about AI).

    (Crossposted from http://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/331771.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Wednesday, 12th July, 2017
    4:41 pm
    I think I have a new favorite film
    When Marnie Was There (2014) is a Studio Ghibli film I hadn't heard of previously. It is a beautifully bittersweet story that reminds me of some of my favorite RenPy stories.

    It adds to, rather than displaces, my other favorites, many of which are Studio Ghibli films too. Speaking of which, it's probably about time I re-watched Whisper of the Heart again. I rewatched another of my favorites again the other day: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist -- love the quirkiness of that movie, and its refreshing dialogue. And another: The Wedding Singer. Lovely nutty movie, that.

    Past due that I re-read John Wyndham's novel Trouble With Lichen too. I used to read it again every several years, but I've come to look forward to it so much lately that I read it once every couple of years. Wonderful story.

    Hmmm... seem to be on a bit of a nostalgia binge...

    At the moment I'm reading Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Walkaway. I love a lot of his concepts, and this one is based around the idea that people in dire circumstances don't act horribly toward each other, but become everyday heroes. There is a lot to bear out his thoughts on the matter. In recent disasters people have gone out of their way to help each other, often putting themselves at risk to do so. It is a relief to see someone notice that. We have so many disaster movies and horrible survivalists who paint humans as civilised only skin deep where you scratch the surface and monsters emerge. We ignore all the clear evidence to the contrary... such as this picture of the guy who spent a lot of time and effort and fuel pulling wild wallabies out of flood waters.

    (Crossposted from http://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/331485.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
    Tuesday, 4th October, 2016
    8:16 am
    How to colonise Mars
    Elon Musk recently gave a fascinating talk on how to go to mars and maintain a self-sustaining civilisation there.

    (Edit: fixed the link, which had broken over time.)

    (Crossposted from http://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/331260.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)
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